After nearly four decades of Killing Joke, frontman Jaz Coleman’s anger at the world and its ills remain undimmed.
The quartet’s debut album, released in 1980, set the template – throbbing post-punk and industrial rhythms from bassist Youth and drummer Big Paul, driven by guitarist Geordie Walker’s riffs, while Coleman’s lyrics tackled politics, military aggression and the environment.
They have influenced countless bands on the heavier end of the spectrum, from Metallica to Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails, who have all admitted the debt they owe them.
And their stock is at its highest in some time – they are headlining next weekend’s Rockaway Beach festival at Butlin’s Bognor Regis, alongside Suede and St Etienne.
As Coleman now admits, Killing Joke gave the band’s members a purpose in lives that could have panned out rather differently.
‘When I think where we started from,’ he tells WOW247 from his current home in Prague, ‘before my 16th birthday, I had four offences to my name.
‘It could have all gone the other way, I was a very angry person. I know Big Paul was very angry.
‘It was on a borderline – we could have easily gone into criminal activity and right off the rails, it could have been terrible, when I look at the energy.
‘If we didn’t have Killing Joke as a social function – an effective surrogate for the war impulse if you like – we could have been criminals, possibly worse.’
Does he still have that impulse?
If we didn’t have Killing Joke as a social function – an effective surrogate for the war impulse if you like – we could have been criminals, possibly worseJaz Coleman
‘Of course I do. When I’m working out early in the morning, I often think about smashing someone’s face in, I don’t feel peace and love at all. I don’t like this negativity – I try to get it out of my system, and there’s nothing better for that than Killing Joke.
‘If you want to get in the mood for fighting or doing something physical, or driving very fast, then put some Killing Joke on,’ and he delivers a rather unnerving cackle that punctuates our conversation rather frequently.
Jaz is renowned for his intensity – and also his unpredictability. In 1982 he quit the band, fearing an impending apocalypse, went to Iceland and announced he was going to be a classical composer (he has indeed since carved a separate career in classical music, working with numerous distinguished orchestras).
And in 2012 he ‘went AWOL’ shortly before a tour was due to start, resurfacing two weeks later in the western Sahara asking what all the fuss was about.
‘Since 2006 I’ve been living out of a bag,’ he explains. ‘I normally move country every three months or so, but my latest partner, who I’ve been with for three years, after three years of making her live out of a bag, she said: “I’ve got a place we can stay in Prague”, so I’ve just moved in here and I’m getting used to not moving every couple of weeks. But as soon as it gets cold I’ll be off down under.’
Jaz also owns a farm on one of New Zealand’s islands.
‘I just can’t stay in one place, I’ve got itchy feet. I try to domesticate myself but it hasn’t worked up to now. But we’ll see what happens.’
Although Jaz owns this little slice of south Pacific heaven, he can’t tear himself away from his ongoing work, as he sees it, with the band.
‘When I show people where I live – I’ve got deserted beaches and there’s only about 300 people on an island bigger than Bali – the amount of people who say, “Why the hell are you in the game? Why don’t you just take the good life?” And the answer is, I simply can’t.
‘I’ve had that option all the time, but I love the conflict, I love the battle, and I love Killing Joke.
‘It has great meaning in my life, all of this. In the end it’s all about people, I like meeting people who are into the music – and it’s more than just music, it’s a counterculture, it’s a lifestyle.
‘I don’t do this part time, this is it, this is my life, it’s Killing Joke, it’s the Gatherers (the name given to the band’s devotees). It is hard. It’s harder than marriage, I think, and that’s hard!’
During the 1980s the original quartet fragmented – only Jaz and Geordie have been there throughout, but since 2008 they’ve buried the various hatchets and reunited, and the music they’ve been releasing, including last year’s album, Pylon, has been acclaimed as some of the best of their career. Pylon has given them their first top 20 album since 1994’s Pandemonium. They’ve also been the subject of a feature-length documentary The Death and Resurrection Show, which will also be screened at Rockaway Beach.
Coleman expresses bemusement at everything this school dropout has achieved – and says it’s down to self-education.
‘It’s the same with everything I’ve done – conducting in front of presidents, all of that. No-one taught me, I taught myself.
‘The real message of Killing Joke is a legacy of self-education. When I see all these kids leaving school, if you don’t go to university these days, you’re finished before you’ve even started. I see these kids coming out with low self-esteem and angry because they’re being judged before they’ve even started their lives.’
He recalls his disappointment in discovering how other bands spent their time.
‘In Killing Joke we’d have pretty deep conversations amongst ourselves. I always took it for granted in my late teens and early 20s, we always had a reading list of 10 books you’d recommend – I thought all bands did this kind of thing. But when I looked into the sociology of other bands, most of them were total dimwits and I had nothing in common with them – the things they talked about are so boring.
‘The rest of the guys in Killing Joke drive me crazy, like I drive them crazy – but they are interesting people and I love them.’
And it’s that friction between the band members that makes it work, according to Jaz.
‘The friction is always there. But in any great friendship – a great friend will tell you what you don’t want to hear.
‘We’ve all been together since we were teenagers, so we can’t hide anything from each other.’
Jaz has also been a keen student of the occult, as well as Hoovering up many of the theories dismissed by the mainstream – from the one world government, to chemtrails and state-sponsored spying on its people, all of which has been grist to his lyrical mill. Some of those theories have now been proved to be less far-fetched than once thought...
‘People are generally politically backward,’ says Jaz.
He asks what I think happened on 9/11 and before I can answer, he’s off.
‘See, that pause where you sucked your breath in – that’s self-censorship.
‘I’m very worried about the impact on society that self-censorship brings. There are trigger words and we’re being spied on. I don’t like it. My father used to impress on me about fascism and the evils of fascism, and here we are sleepwalking into technocratic fascism of a strain that makes Nazi Germany look like the Liberal Democrats,’
And ruing the lack of organised dissent, he believes we’re entering ‘an age of neofeudalism,’ and no longer live in a ‘free society’.
But even amidst the pessimism, there’s still dark humour as he proclaims: ‘Donald Trump, the world’s safe with him! Vote chaos party!’
In light of everything that’s happening, does he think that, 37 years in, this is what Killing Joke has been building to?
‘I got this phone call from my brother and my mother about 9-10 days ago and they were saying the world needs Killing Joke now – you have to concentrate, this is why you’re here. I thought that was sweet, but in a way what they’re saying is true, and that’s why I’m doing what I’m doing.’
n Rockaway Beach is at Butlin’s Bognor Regis from October 7-9. Tickets are from £95 for three nights. Go to rockawaybeach.co.uk